Inside the New Balance Factory and Sports Research Lab

So this is one of my last Reach the Beach-related posts…probably. There’s a few more things about the race still on my mind that I may blog about, but I’ll at least spare you a few days!

One of the other really cool things we did was go on a tour of the New Balance factory in Lawrence, Mass.–about 40 minutes outside of Boston.

While this tour would have been interesting to me just as a blogger who was interested in running, it also held special meaning to me for a few other reasons.

First of all, they’re my client, so it was completely invaluable to learn more about the background of the company I’m working with. The past six months, I’ve loved working on this account, but seeing the factory in person really brought it all to life and made me feel even more connected with NB.

Secondly, until recently, my dad owned a textile factory in NJ, despite most of his competition going over to China–so New Balance’s commitment to American manufacturing really makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


The facility in Lawrence we went to is one of New Balance’s five U.S. factories. The company is committed to manufacturing 25 percent of its shoes in the U.S–which is 25 percent more than any other American running shoe company.

While this is obviously good for keeping jobs here, it also helps the company because its retail partners can maintain a lower inventory at any time, since the shoes aren’t coming as far. It also means that if you customize 990s or 993s online, you can get them on your doorstep within a week.


Sarah made a very important phone call from the lobby before our tour started.


Safety first–we had to wear these safety goggles and closed-toed shoes.


And…yeah. Our New Balance and RTB friends quickly realized what a pack of bloggers means: lots of “can you take a picture with my camera?”

[photo via Jack at /]


The shoes’ uppers are constructed from synthetics and pigskin sourced from Maine and cut by hand.





They are cut down, and then the Ns are sewn on. (The shoes we saw being made are the 990s, the company’s heritage shoe.)


The upper is then formed before the sole is put on. Once the sole is put on, the shoe is put in heat to form the shape. It’s then put through a metal detector to make sure there are no pieces of metal in the shoe.



In this factory, the 990, 812 walking shoe and 706 walking shoe are produced. (Walking is a big market for New Balance’s U.S.-made shoes.)

I also thought the corporate culture I saw in the factory was really interesting.


Every year, each associate is responsible for coming up with a problem-solving idea, which is then displayed on this wall.


There was also this poster on the eight deadly wastes, one of which is “unused associate creativity.” The company really values the contributions of everyone.


After the tour, we went down to the Sports Research Lab, which interacts with and tests athletes from high school athletes and runners from local running clubs to elite Team New Balance runners.


It was really freaking cool. We started off trying out a device that measures how your foot distributes weight, aka the loading rate.


You step on this…


And it spits out this graph, which also shows your arches. It can’t show height, but it shoes whether they’re long or not. I think this graph is Sarah’s feet, but they said my arches were long. (Probably because I’m a bigfoot.)


Afterwards, they split us into three groups and rotated us among the stations.

We started off with the Glass Top Kistler Force Plate, which measures the forces people apply to the ground in all directions while a camera below the plate captures the foot landing. It’s one of the only glass top force plates in the United States.


I first walked over it and then ran over it.


The initial bump in this graph shows that I heel-struck a bit, but not too dramatically.


They had tons of competitors’ shoes to test.


Next, we went into the Smash Lab.


We learned that the more firm the foam, basically the more it protects your foot and leg. He showed us with a softer foam, and we saw the machine hit the foam harder and leave an indent. The stiffer foam absorbed more of the impact and didn’t leave an indent.


This MTS Mini Bionix System applies force and torque to simulate an athlete’s use of the shoe. It can replicate 6-8 weeks of wear in two to three days.


This machine measures traction, and how much force it takes to move the foot within the shoe.


[via Monica]

Next, we got to run on a treadmill to measure gait. Even for 30 seconds, running without a sports bra was…interesting.


DO YOU SEE THAT MIDFOOT STRIKE? It is a thing of beauty.

They explained, though, that it’s much easier to not heel-strike barefoot–hence the whole barefoot running trend and their Minimus line.

But still. I’m going to pretend I just have a pretty midfoot strike like that.


Finally, we learned about perception testing.

Do you see his weird goggles? We all have subconscious (and conscious) brand preferences. They found that if they brought in runners who were used to, say, Brooks, and asked them to try on a Brooks and a New Balance, if they could see them, they’d always pick Brooks. They also noticed that some people would always choose the shoe on their right foot, no matter what. So they started using these googles so their testers couldn’t see their feet.

They suggested, that if you’re trying on a few different pairs of shoes, to not just try one on each foot, but to switch the shoe on each foot so you don’t select the shoe you’re naturally biased towards.

And that’s it! Our tour concluded in their factory store, where I ended up buying the skirt I wore on my last leg. #thingsidontneed #notevenalittlebit


If you could go inside any company’s office/factory, what company would be? (Or what cool company have you been inside of?)

18 comments on “Inside the New Balance Factory and Sports Research Lab

  1. Emily N

    Wow. It looks like you guys had quite an experience. I need to work on my running form as well. I ran in a pair of Newton shoes last week, and they seemed to help a lot.

  2. Megan@ The Running Doc

    Wow, how cool to see the evolution of the shoes from an idea to the full blown product! I’m going to need to keep those biases about choosing shoes in mind the next time I’m buying running shoes. And I have to agree with the people above, I’d love to visit an Apple factory given my love for their products 🙂

  3. fionarwbl

    This was 100% fascinating. I’ve never worn New Balance shoes, and now I’m reconsidering … I do love their store on 5th Ave.

    Do you know anything about their virtual city running game, or did I imagine that?

    1. Theodora Post author

      @fionarwbl: Nope, not imagining it:

      Also, if you go to Runner’s World and search for the shoe you’re in now, you can search for “similar shoes,” and get an idea of which NB ones (or other ones for that matter :)) might work for you. Or, of course, they could fit you at the store.

  4. Johanna B

    I now want to go out and buy some New Balance shoes. I’m glad they have factories in the US. I just bought Asics but I wasn’t as informed as I am after reading this post.

  5. Katie G

    The Cadbury’s chocolate factory tour is pretty awesome, and not just for the free chocolate (though it helps). You get to ride on little carts on a rail through “the history of chocolate” which I enjoyed in a completely mature “appreciation of historic facts” way, not with childlike glee, of course 😉

  6. Aly

    not going to lie, slightly more interested in buying new balances now because they make some of them in the US.


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